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Plenty of change but at what price?

You all know what I am talking about. We buy an item and get back some coins in change. We put the coins in our pocket or purse. When they accumulate a bit, we take them out and put them in a jar or dish or whatever. The story changes a bit from there. Some people let them accumulate for a long time. Then they cash them in and take a short vacation. Others just let them accumulate long enough to take the family to Joe’s Steak House for a meal.

The government tries to make sure we always have enough pocket change. No one recently accused the government of being smart. Coinage is a case in point. They keep making cents that cost more than a cent to make. Through October, they made 4 billion thus far this year, losing money on every one. They keep making nickels when it costs more than 5 cents for each to do so.

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Of course, making dollars is the big stupid. The dollar coins might become pocket change if they would quit making paper dollars. As it is, they make a gazillion dollars every year that no one uses so they freight them off to a warehouse. It costs storage fees. It costs to have guards to see that they are safe. It costs millions of dollars to do this. They would save money if they would pipe them from the presses out into the street and let people pick them up and spend them. They would not have freight, storage and salary costs associated with protecting and distributing them.

Such waste with the cents, nickels and dollars reminds me of something that happened during the Great Depression. That was before almost all your times, but I lived through it. Congress passed a bill called the NRA. The heading was recorded in the Congressional Record as the “National Recovery Act.” People who had only a modicum of sense knew it really stood for “Nuts Run America.” That act was just a huge waste of money, just as making coins at a loss is a huge waste of money. Nothing seems to have changed.

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However, the government keeps trying. They recently started issuing a special coin that is a whopping bit of pocket change. It would take one of those huge purses I have seen some carrying to hold very many of them. They are 5 full ounces of .999 fine silver. Now that’s pocket change.

Of course, this is a gossamer cloud compared to a coin made in Canada in 2007. It was gold coin with a face value of $1,000,000 and weighed 200 pounds. Now that’s pocket change.

But wait: Australia just produced a “coin” weighing a full metric ton. That is 10 times bigger than the Canadian piece. It has a diameter of 31.5 inches. Now that would require a pretty big pocket.

Now the mental picture begins to blur. Coins being made so big no pocket could hold them. It is no longer pocket change. Just forget those whoppers, save your pocket change and go see Joe at the steak house. You’ll feel better that way.

Editor’s note: This was written before the Treasury announced the formal suspension of the Presidential dollar coin program.
John Queen is 89 years old and is still working in the coin business on a part time basis. He worked at Paramount in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

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Strike It Rich with Pocket Change, 2nd Edition

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